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The Spirit of the Age by William Hazlitt

Part 4 out of 4

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and grows impatient and absent)--he moves in an unmanageable procession
of facts and proofs, instead of coming to the point at once--and his
premises (so anxious is he to proceed on sure and ample grounds) overlay
and block up his conclusion, so that you cannot arrive at it, or not
till the first fury and shock of the onset is over. The ball, from
the too great width of the _calibre_ from which it is sent, and from
striking against such a number of hard, projecting points, is almost
spent before it reaches its destination. He keeps a ledger or a
debtor-and-creditor account between the Government and the Country,
posts so much actual crime, corruption, and injustice against so much
contingent advantage or sluggish prejudice, and at the bottom of the
page brings in the balance of indignation and contempt, where it is due.
But people are not to be _calculated into_ contempt or indignation on
abstract grounds; for however they may submit to this process where
their own interests are concerned, in what regards the public good we
believe they must see and feel instinctively, or not at all. There is
(it is to be lamented) a good deal of froth as well as strength in the
popular spirit, which will not admit of being _decanted_ or served out
in formal driblets; nor will spleen (the soul of Opposition) bear to be
corked up in square patent bottles, and kept for future use! In a word,
Mr. Brougham's is ticketed and labelled eloquence, registered and in
numeros (like the successive parts of a Scotch Encyclopedia)--it
is clever, knowing, imposing, masterly, an extraordinary display of
clearness of head, of quickness and energy of thought, of application
and industry; but it is not the eloquence of the imagination or the
heart, and will never save a nation or an individual from perdition.

Mr. Brougham has one considerable advantage in debate: he is overcome
by no false modesty, no deference to others. But then, by a natural
consequence or parity of reasoning, he has little sympathy with other
people, and is liable to be mistaken in the effect his arguments will
have upon them. He relies too much, among other things, on the patience
of his hearers, and on his ability to turn every thing to his own
advantage. He accordingly goes to the full length of _his tether_ (in
vulgar phrase) and often overshoots the mark. _C'est dommage_. He has no
reserve of discretion, no retentiveness of mind or check upon himself.
He needs, with so much wit,

"As much again to govern it."

He cannot keep a good thing or a shrewd piece of information in his
possession, though the letting it out should mar a cause. It is not
that he thinks too much of himself, too little of his cause: but he is
absorbed in the pursuit of truth as an abstract inquiry, he is led away
by the headstrong and over-mastering activity of his own mind. He is
borne along, almost involuntarily, and not impossibly against his better
judgment, by the throng and restlessness of his ideas as by a crowd
of people in motion. His perceptions are literal, tenacious,
_epileptic_--his understanding voracious of facts, and equally
communicative of them--and he proceeds to

"--------Pour out all as plain
As downright Shippen or as old Montaigne"--

without either the virulence of the one or the _bonhommie_ of the other.
The repeated, smart, unforeseen discharges of the truth jar those
that are next him. He does not dislike this state of irritation and
collision, indulges his curiosity or his triumph, till by calling for
more facts or hazarding some extreme inference, he urges a question to
the verge of a precipice, his adversaries urge it _over_, and he himself
shrinks back from the consequence--

"Scared at the sound himself has made!"

Mr. Brougham has great fearlessness, but not equal firmness; and after
going too far on the _forlorn hope_, turns short round without due
warning to others or respect for himself. He is adventurous, but easily
panic-struck; and sacrifices the vanity of self-opinion to the necessity
of self-preservation. He is too improvident for a leader, too petulant
for a partisan; and does not sufficiently consult those with whom he is
supposed to act in concert. He sometimes leaves them in the lurch,
and is sometimes left in the lurch by them. He wants the principle of
co-operation. He frequently, in a fit of thoughtless levity, gives an
unexpected turn to the political machine, which alarms older and more
experienced heads: if he was not himself the first to get out of harm's
way and escape from the danger, it would be well!--We hold, indeed, as
a general rule, that no man born or bred in Scotland can be a great
orator, unless he is a mere quack; or a great statesman unless he turns
plain knave. The national gravity is against the first: the national
caution is against the last. To a Scotchman if a thing _is, it is_;
there is an end of the question with his opinion about it. He is
positive and abrupt, and is not in the habit of conciliating the
feelings or soothing the follies of others. His only way therefore to
produce a popular effect is to sail with the stream of prejudice, and
to vent common dogmas, "the total grist, unsifted, husks and all," from
some evangelical pulpit. This may answer, and it has answered. On the
other hand, if a Scotchman, born or bred, comes to think at all of the
feelings of others, it is not as they regard them, but as their
opinion reacts on his own interest and safety. He is therefore either
pragmatical and offensive, or if he tries to please, he becomes cowardly
and fawning. His public spirit wants pliancy; his selfish compliances
go all lengths. He is as impracticable as a popular partisan, as he
is mischievous as a tool of Government. We do not wish to press
this argument farther, and must leave it involved in some degree of
obscurity, rather than bring the armed intellect of a whole nation on
our heads.

Mr. Brougham speaks in a loud and unmitigated tone of voice, sometimes
almost approaching to a scream. He is fluent, rapid, vehement, full of
his subject, with evidently a great deal to say, and very regardless
of the manner of saying it. As a lawyer, he has not hitherto been
remarkably successful. He is not profound in cases and reports, nor does
he take much interest in the peculiar features of a particular cause, or
shew much adroitness in the management of it. He carries too much weight
of metal for ordinary and petty occasions: he must have a pretty large
question to discuss, and must make _thorough-stitch_ work of it. He,
however, had an encounter with Mr. Phillips the other day, and shook all
his tender blossoms, so that they fell to the ground, and withered in an
hour; but they soon bloomed again! Mr. Brougham writes almost, if not
quite, as well as he speaks. In the midst of an Election contest he
comes out to address the populace, and goes back to his study to finish
an article for the Edinburgh Review; sometimes indeed wedging three or
four articles (in the shape of _refaccimentos_ of his own pamphlets
or speeches in parliament) into a single number. Such indeed is the
activity of his mind that it appears to require neither repose, nor any
other stimulus than a delight in its own exercise. He can turn his
hand to any thing, but he cannot be idle. There are few intellectual
accomplishments which he does not possess, and possess in a very
high degree. He speaks French (and, we believe, several other modern
languages) fluently: is a capital mathematician, and obtained an
introduction to the celebrated Carnot in this latter character, when the
conversation turned on squaring the circle, and not on the propriety of
confining France within the natural boundary of the Rhine. Mr. Brougham
is, in fact, a striking instance of the versatility and strength of the
human mind, and also in one sense of the length of human life, if we
make a good use of our time. There is room enough to crowd almost every
art and science into it. If we pass "no day without a line," visit no
place without the company of a book, we may with ease fill libraries or
empty them of their contents. Those who complain of the shortness of
life, let it slide by them without wishing to seize and make the most of
its golden minutes. The more we do, the more we can do; the more busy we
are, the more leisure we have. If any one possesses any advantage in a
considerable degree, he may make himself master of nearly as many more
as he pleases, by employing his spare time and cultivating the waste
faculties of his mind. While one person is determining on the choice of
a profession or study, another shall have made a fortune or gained a
merited reputation. While one person is dreaming over the meaning of a
word, another will have learnt several languages. It is not incapacity,
but indolence, indecision, want of imagination, and a proneness to a
sort of mental tautology, to repeat the same images and tread the same
circle, that leaves us so poor, so dull, and inert as we are, so naked
of acquirement, so barren of resources! While we are walking backwards
and forwards between Charing-Cross and Temple-Bar, and sitting in the
same coffee-house every day, we might make the grand tour of Europe, and
visit the Vatican and the Louvre. Mr. Brougham, among other means of
strengthening and enlarging his views, has visited, we believe, most of
the courts, and turned his attention to most of the Constitutions of the
continent. He is, no doubt, a very accomplished, active-minded, and
admirable person.

Sir Francis Burdett, in many respects, affords a contrast to the
foregoing character. He is a plain, unaffected, unsophisticated English
gentleman. He is a person of great reading too and considerable
information, but he makes very little display of these, unless it be to
quote Shakespear, which he does often with extreme aptness and felicity.
Sir Francis is one of the most pleasing speakers in the House, and is a
prodigious favourite of the English people. So he ought to be: for he is
one of the few remaining examples of the old English understanding and
old English character. All that he pretends to is common sense and
common honesty; and a greater compliment cannot be paid to these than
the attention with which he is listened to in the House of Commons. We
cannot conceive a higher proof of courage than the saying things which
he has been known to say there; and we have seen him blush and appear
ashamed of the truths he has been obliged to utter, like a bashful
novice. He could not have uttered what he often did there, if, besides
his general respectability, he had not been a very honest, a very
good-tempered, and a very good-looking man. But there was evidently no
wish to shine, nor any desire to offend: it was painful to him to hurt
the feelings of those who heard him, but it was a higher duty in him not
to suppress his sincere and earnest convictions. It is wonderful how
much virtue and plain-dealing a man may be guilty of with impunity, if
he has no vanity, or ill-nature, or duplicity to provoke the contempt or
resentment of others, and to make them impatient of the superiority he
sets up over them. We do not recollect that Sir Francis ever endeavoured
to atone for any occasional indiscretions or intemperance by giving
the Duke of York credit for the battle of Waterloo, or congratulating
Ministers on the confinement of Buonaparte at St. Helena. There is no
honest cause which he dares not avow: no oppressed individual that he
is not forward to succour. He has the firmness of manhood with the
unimpaired enthusiasm of youthful feeling about him. His principles are
mellowed and improved, without having become less sound with time: for
at one period he sometimes appeared to come charged to the House with
the petulance and caustic sententiousness he had imbibed at Wimbledon
Common. He is never violent or in extremes, except when the people or
the parliament happen to be out of their senses; and then he seems to
regret the necessity of plainly telling them he thinks so, instead of
pluming himself upon it or exulting over impending calamities. There
is only one error he seems to labour under (which, we believe, he also
borrowed from Mr. Horne Tooke or Major Cartwright), the wanting to go
back to the early times of our Constitution and history in search of the
principles of law and liberty. He might as well

"Hunt half a day for a forgotten dream."

Liberty, in our opinion, is but a modern invention (the growth of books
and printing)--and whether new or old, is not the less desirable. A man
may be a patriot, without being an antiquary. This is the only point
on which Sir Francis is at all inclined to a tincture of pedantry. In
general, his love of liberty is pure, as it is warm and steady: his
humanity is unconstrained and free. His heart does not ask leave of his
head to feel; nor does prudence always keep a guard upon his tongue or
his pen. No man writes a better letter to his Constituents than the
member for Westminster; and his compositions of that kind ought to be
good, for they have occasionally cost him dear. He is the idol of the
people of Westminster: few persons have a greater number of friends
and well-wishers; and he has still greater reason to be proud of his
enemies, for his integrity and independence have made them so. Sir
Francis Burdett has often been left in a Minority in the House of
Commons, with only one or two on his side. We suspect, unfortunately for
his country, that History will be found to enter its protest on the same
side of the question!

[Footnote A: Mr. Brougham is not a Scotchman literally, but by

* * * * *


Lord Eldon is an exceedingly good-natured man; but this does not prevent
him, like other good-natured people, from consulting his own ease or
interest. The character of _good-nature_, as it is called, has been a
good deal mistaken; and the present Chancellor is not a bad illustration
of the grounds of the prevailing error. When we happen to see an
individual whose countenance is "all tranquillity and smiles;" who
is full of good-humour and pleasantry; whose manners are gentle and
conciliating; who is uniformly temperate in his expressions, and
punctual and just in his every-day dealings; we are apt to conclude from
so fair an outside, that

"All is conscience and tender heart"

within also, and that such a one would not hurt a fly. And neither would
he without a motive. But mere good-nature (or what passes in the world
for such) is often no better than indolent selfishness. A person
distinguished and praised for this quality will not needlessly offend
others, because they may retaliate; and besides, it ruffles his own
temper. He likes to enjoy a perfect calm, and to live in an interchange
of kind offices. He suffers few things to irritate or annoy him. He has
a fine oiliness in his disposition, which smooths the waves of passion
as they rise. He does not enter into the quarrels or enmities of others;
bears their calamities with patience; he listens to the din and clang of
war, the earthquake and the hurricane of the political and moral world
with the temper and spirit of a philosopher; no act of injustice puts
him beside himself, the follies and absurdities of mankind never give
him a moment's uneasiness, he has none of the ordinary causes of
fretfulness or chagrin that torment others from the undue interest they
take in the conduct of their neighbours or in the public good. None of
these idle or frivolous sources of discontent, that make such havoc
with the peace of human life, ever discompose his features or alter the
serenity of his pulse. If a nation is robbed of its rights,

"If wretches hang that Ministers may dine,"--

the laughing jest still collects in his eye, the cordial squeeze of the
hand is still the same. But tread on the toe of one of these amiable and
imperturbable mortals, or let a lump of soot fall down the chimney and
spoil their dinners, and see how they will bear it. All their patience
is confined to the accidents that befal others: all their good-humour
is to be resolved into giving themselves no concern about any thing but
their own ease and self-indulgence. Their charity begins and ends at
home. Their being free from the common infirmities of temper is owing to
their indifference to the common feelings of humanity; and if you touch
the sore place, they betray more resentment, and break out (like spoiled
children) into greater fractiousness than others, partly from a greater
degree of selfishness, and partly because they are taken by surprise,
and mad to think they have not guarded every point against annoyance or
attack, by a habit of callous insensibility and pampered indolence.

An instance of what we mean occurred but the other day. An allusion was
made in the House of Commons to something in the proceedings in the
Court of Chancery, and the Lord Chancellor comes to his place in the
Court, with the statement in his hand, fire in his eyes, and a direct
charge of falsehood in his mouth, without knowing any thing certain
of the matter, without making any inquiry into it, without using any
precaution or putting the least restraint upon himself, and all on no
better authority than a common newspaper report. The thing was (not that
we are imputing any strong blame in this case, we merely bring it as an
illustration) it touched himself, his office, the inviolability of his
jurisdiction, the unexceptionableness of his proceedings, and the wet
blanket of the Chancellor's temper instantly took fire like tinder! All
the fine balancing was at an end; all the doubts, all the delicacy, all
the candour real or affected, all the chances that there might be a
mistake in the report, all the decencies to be observed towards a Member
of the House, are overlooked by the blindness of passion, and the wary
Judge pounces upon the paragraph without mercy, without a moment's
delay, or the smallest attention to forms! This was indeed serious
business, there was to be no trifling here; every instant was an age
till the Chancellor had discharged his sense of indignation on the head
of the indiscreet interloper on his authority. Had it been another
person's case, another person's dignity that had been compromised,
another person's conduct that had been called in question, who doubts
but that the matter might have stood over till the next term, that the
Noble Lord would have taken the Newspaper home in his pocket, that he
would have compared it carefully with other newspapers, that he would
have written in the most mild and gentlemanly terms to the Honourable
Member to inquire into the truth of the statement, that he would have
watched a convenient opportunity good-humouredly to ask other Honourable
Members what all this was about, that the greatest caution and fairness
would have been observed, and that to this hour the lawyers' clerks and
the junior counsel would have been in the greatest admiration of the
Chancellor's nicety of discrimination, and the utter inefficacy of the
heats, importunities, haste, and passions of others to influence his
judgment? This would have been true; yet his readiness to decide and to
condemn where he himself is concerned, shews that passion is not dead in
him, nor subject to the controul of reason; but that self-love is the
main-spring that moves it, though on all beyond that limit he looks with
the most perfect calmness and philosophic indifference.

"Resistless passion sways us to the mood
Of what it likes or loaths."

All people are passionate in what concerns themselves, or in what they
take an interest in. The range of this last is different in different
persons; but the want of passion is but another name for the want of
sympathy and imagination.

The Lord Chancellor's impartiality and conscientious exactness is
proverbial; and is, we believe, as inflexible as it is delicate in
all cases that occur in the stated routine of legal practice. The
impatience, the irritation, the hopes, the fears, the confident tone of
the applicants move him not a jot from his intended course, he looks at
their claims with the "lack lustre eye" of prefessional indifference.
Power and influence apart, his next strongest passion is to indulge in
the exercise of professional learning and skill, to amuse himself with
the dry details and intricate windings of the law of equity. He delights
to balance a straw, to see a feather turn the scale, or make it even
again; and divides and subdivides a scruple to the smallest fraction. He
unravels the web of argument and pieces it together again; folds it up
and lays it aside, that he may examine it more at his leisure. He hugs
indecision to his breast, and takes home a modest doubt or a nice point
to solace himself with it in protracted, luxurious dalliance. Delay
seems, in his mind, to be of the very essence of justice. He no more
hurries through a question than if no one was waiting for the result,
and he was merely a _dilettanti_, fanciful judge, who played at my Lord
Chancellor, and busied himself with quibbles and punctilios as an idle
hobby and harmless illusion. The phlegm of the Chancellor's disposition
gives one almost a surfeit of impartiality and candour: we are sick
of the eternal poise of childish dilatoriness; and would wish law and
justice to be decided at once by a cast of the dice (as they were in
Rabelais) rather than be kept in frivolous and tormenting suspense. But
there is a limit even to this extreme refinement and scrupulousness
of the Chancellor. The understanding acts only in the absence of the
passions. At the approach of the loadstone, the needle trembles, and
points to it. The air of a political question has a wonderful tendency
to brace and quicken the learned Lord's faculties. The breath of a court
speedily oversets a thousand objections, and scatters the cobwebs of his
brain. The secret wish of power is a thumping _make-weight,_ where all
is so nicely-balanced beforehand. In the case of a celebrated beauty and
heiress, and the brother of a Noble Lord, the Chancellor hesitated long,
and went through the forms, as usual: but who ever doubted, where all
this indecision would end? No man in his senses, for a single instant!
We shall not press this point, which is rather a ticklish one. Some
persons thought that from entertaining a fellow-feeling on the subject,
the Chancellor would have been ready to favour the Poet-Laureat's
application to the Court of Chancery for an injunction against Wat
Tyler. His Lordship's sentiments on such points are not so variable, he
has too much at stake. He recollected the year 1794, though Mr. Southey
had forgotten it!--

The personal always prevails over the intellectual, where the latter is
not backed by strong feeling and principle. Where remote and speculative
objects do not excite a predominant interest and passion, gross and
immediate ones are sure to carry the day, even in ingenuous and
well-disposed minds. The will yields necessarily to some motive or
other; and where the public good or distant consequences excite no
sympathy in the breast, either from short-sightedness or an easiness of
temperament that shrinks from any violent effort or painful emotion,
self-interest, indolence, the opinion of others, a desire to please, the
sense of personal obligation, come in and fill up the void of public
spirit, patriotism, and humanity. The best men in the world in their own
natural dispositions or in private life (for this reason) often become
the most dangerous public characters, from their pliancy to the unruly
passions of others, and from their having no set-off in strong moral
_stamina_ to the temptations that are held out to them, if, as is
frequently the case, they are men of versatile talent or patient
industry.--Lord Eldon has one of the best-natured faces in the world;
it is pleasant to meet him in the street, plodding along with an
umbrella under his arm, without one trace of pride, of spleen, or
discontent in his whole demeanour, void of offence, with almost rustic
simplicity and honesty of appearance--a man that makes friends at first
sight, and could hardly make enemies, if he would; and whose only fault
is that he cannot say _Nay_ to power, or subject himself to an unkind
word or look from a King or a Minister. He is a thorough-bred Tory.
Others boggle or are at fault in their career, or give back at a pinch,
they split into different factions, have various objects to distract
them, their private friendships or antipathies stand in their way; but
he has never flinched, never gone back, never missed his way, he is an
_out-and-outer_ in this respect, his allegiance has been without flaw,
like "one entire and perfect chrysolite," his implicit understanding is
a kind of taffeta-lining to the Crown, his servility has assumed an air
of the most determined independence, and he has

"Read his history in a Prince's eyes!"--

There has been no stretch of power attempted in his time that he has not
seconded: no existing abuse, so odious or so absurd, that he has not
sanctioned it. He has gone the whole length of the most unpopular
designs of Ministers. When the heavy artillery of interest, power, and
prejudice is brought into the field, the paper pellets of the brain go
for nothing: his labyrinth of nice, lady-like doubts explodes like a
mine of gun-powder. The Chancellor may weigh and palter--the courtier
is decided, the politician is firm, and rivetted to his place in the
Cabinet! On all the great questions that have divided party opinion or
agitated the public mind, the Chancellor has been found uniformly and
without a single exception on the side of prerogative and power,
and against every proposal for the advancement of freedom. He was a
strenuous supporter of the wars and coalitions against the principles of
liberty abroad; he has been equally zealous in urging or defending every
act and infringement of the Constitution, for abridging it at home: he
at the same time opposes every amelioration of the penal laws, on the
alleged ground of his abhorrence of even the shadow of innovation: he
has studiously set his face against Catholic emancipation; he laboured
hard in his vocation to prevent the abolition of the Slave Trade; he was
Attorney General in the trials for High Treason in 1794; and the other
day in giving his opinion on the Queen's Trial, shed tears and protested
his innocence before God! This was natural and to be expected; but
on all occasions he is to be found at his post, true to the call of
prejudice, of power, to the will of others and to his own interest.
In the whole of his public career, and with all the goodness of his
disposition, he has not shewn "so small a drop of pity as a wren's eye."
He seems to be on his guard against every thing liberal and humane as
his weak side. Others relax in their obsequiousness either from satiety
or disgust, or a hankering after popularity, or a wish to be thought
above narrow prejudices. The Chancellor alone is fixed and immoveable.
Is it want of understanding or of principle? No--it is want of
imagination, a phlegmatic habit, an excess of false complaisance and
good-nature ... Common humanity and justice are little better than vague
terms to him: he acts upon his immediate feelings and least irksome
impulses. The King's hand is velvet to the touch--the Woolsack is a
seat of honour and profit! That is all he knows about the matter. As to
abstract metaphysical calculations, the ox that stands staring at the
corner of the street troubles his head as much about them as he does:
yet this last is a very good sort of animal with no harm or malice in
him, unless he is goaded on to mischief, and then it is necessary to
keep out of his way, or warn others against him!

Mr. Wilberforce is a less perfect character in his way. He acts from
mixed motives. He would willingly serve two masters, God and Mammon. He
is a person of many excellent and admirable qualifications, but he has
made a mistake in wishing to reconcile those that are incompatible.
He has a most winning eloquence, specious, persuasive, familiar,
silver-tongued, is amiable, charitable, conscientious, pious, loyal,
humane, tractable to power, accessible to popularity, honouring the
king, and no less charmed with the homage of his fellow-citizens. "What
lacks he then?" Nothing but an economy of good parts. By aiming at
too much, he has spoiled all, and neutralised what might have been an
estimable character, distinguished by signal services to mankind. A
man must take his choice not only between virtue and vice, but between
different virtues. Otherwise, he will not gain his own approbation, or
secure the respect of others. The graces and accomplishments of private
life mar the man of business and the statesman. There is a severity, a
sternness, a self-denial, and a painful sense of duty required in
the one, which ill befits the softness and sweetness which should
characterise the other. Loyalty, patriotism, friendship, humanity, are
all virtues; but may they not sometimes clash? By being unwilling to
forego the praise due to any, we may forfeit the reputation of all; and
instead of uniting the suffrages of the whole world in our favour, we
may end in becoming a sort of bye-word for affectation, cant, hollow
professions, trimming, fickleness, and effeminate imbecility. It is best
to choose and act up to some one leading character, as it is best to
have some settled profession or regular pursuit in life.

We can readily believe that Mr. Wilberforce's first object and principle
of action is to do what he thinks right: his next (and that we fear is
of almost equal weight with the first) is to do what will be thought so
by other people. He is always at a game of _hawk and buzzard_ between
these two: his "conscience will not budge," unless the world goes with
it. He does not seem greatly to dread the denunciation in Scripture,
but rather to court it--"Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of
you!" We suspect he is not quite easy in his mind, because West-India
planters and Guinea traders do not join in his praise. His ears are not
strongly enough tuned to drink in the execrations of the spoiler and the
oppressor as the sweetest music. It is not enough that one half of the
human species (the images of God carved in ebony, as old Fuller calls
them) shout his name as a champion and a saviour through vast burning
zones, and moisten their parched lips with the gush of gratitude for
deliverance from chains--he must have a Prime-Minister drink his health
at a Cabinet-dinner for aiding to rivet on those of his country and
of Europe! He goes hand and heart along with Government in all their
notions of legitimacy and political aggrandizement, in the hope that
they will leave him a sort of _no-man's ground_ of humanity in the Great
Desert, where his reputation for benevolence and public spirit may
spring up and flourish, till its head touches the clouds, and it
stretches out its branches to the farthest part of the earth. He has
no mercy on those who claim a property in negro-slaves as so much
live-stock on their estates; the country rings with the applause of
his wit, his eloquence, and his indignant appeals to common sense and
humanity on this subject--but not a word has he to say, not a whisper
does he breathe against the claim set up by the Despots of the Earth
over their Continental subjects, but does every thing in his power to
confirm and sanction it! He must give no offence. Mr. Wilberforce's
humanity will go all lengths that it can with safety and discretion: but
it is not to be supposed that it should lose him his seat for Yorkshire,
the smile of Majesty, or the countenance of the loyal and pious. He is
anxious to do all the good he can without hurting himself or his fair
fame. His conscience and his character compound matters very amicably.
He rather patronises honesty than is a martyr to it. His patriotism, his
philanthropy are not so ill-bred, as to quarrel with his loyalty or to
banish him from the first circles. He preaches vital Christianity to
untutored savages; and tolerates its worst abuses in civilized states.
He thus shews his respect for religion without offending the clergy, or
circumscribing the sphere of his usefulness. There is in all this an
appearance of a good deal of cant and tricking. His patriotism may
be accused of being servile; his humanity ostentatious; his loyalty
conditional; his religion a mixture of fashion and fanaticism. "Out upon
such half-faced fellowship!" Mr. Wilberforce has the pride of being
familiar with the great; the vanity of being popular; the conceit of an
approving conscience. He is coy in his approaches to power; his public
spirit is, in a manner, _under the rose_. He thus reaps the credit
of independence, without the obloquy; and secures the advantages of
servility, without incurring any obligations. He has two strings to his
bow:--he by no means neglects his worldly interests, while he expects
a bright reversion in the skies. Mr. Wilberforce is far from being
a hypocrite; but he is, we think, as fine a specimen of _moral
equivocation_ as can well be conceived. A hypocrite is one who is the
very reverse of, or who despises the character he pretends to be: Mr.
Wilberforce would be all that he pretends to be, and he is it in fact,
as far as words, plausible theories, good inclinations, and easy
services go, but not in heart and soul, or so as to give up the
appearance of any one of his pretensions to preserve the reality of any
other. He carefully chooses his ground to fight the battles of
loyalty, religion, and humanity, and it is such as is always safe and
advantageous to himself! This is perhaps hardly fair, and it is of
dangerous or doubtful tendency. Lord Eldon, for instance, is known to be
a thorough-paced ministerialist: his opinion is only that of his party.
But Mr. Wilberforce is not a party-man. He is the more looked up to
on this account, but not with sufficient reason. By tampering with
different temptations and personal projects, he has all the air of the
most perfect independence, and gains a character for impartiality and
candour, when he is only striking a balance in his mind between the
_eclat_ of differing from a Minister on some 'vantage ground, and the
risk or odium that may attend it. He carries all the weight of his
artificial popularity over to the Government on vital points and
hard-run questions; while they, in return, lend him a little of the
gilding of court-favour to set off his disinterested philanthropy and
tramontane enthusiasm. As a leader or a follower, he makes an odd jumble
of interests. By virtue of religious sympathy, he has brought the Saints
over to the side of the abolition of Negro slavery. This his adversaries
think hard and stealing a march upon them. What have the SAINTS to do
with freedom or reform of any kind?--Mr. Wilberforce's style of
speaking is not quite _parliamentary_, it is halfway between that and
_evangelical_. He is altogether a _double-entendre:_ the very tone of
his voice is a _double-entendre._ It winds, and undulates, and glides
up and down on texts of Scripture, and scraps from Paley, and trite
sophistry, and pathetic appeals to his hearers in a faltering,
inprogressive, sidelong way, like those birds of weak wing, that are
borne from their strait-forward course

"By every little breath that under heaven is blown."

Something of this fluctuating, time-serving principle was visible even
in the great question of the Abolition of the Slave Trade. He was, at
one time, half inclined to surrender it into Mr. Pitt's dilatory hands,
and seemed to think the gloss of novelty was gone from it, and the gaudy
colouring of popularity sunk into the _sable_ ground from which it rose!
It was, however, persisted in and carried to a triumphant conclusion.
Mr. Wilberforce said too little on this occasion of one, compared with
whom he was but the frontispiece to that great chapter in the history of
the world--the mask, the varnishing, and painting--the man that effected
it by Herculean labours of body, and equally gigantic labours of mind
was Clarkson, the true Apostle of human Redemption on that occasion, and
who, it is remarkable, resembles in his person and lineaments more than
one of the Apostles in the _Cartoons_ of Raphael. He deserves to be
added to the Twelve![A]

[Footnote A: After all, the best as well as most amusing comment on the
character just described was that made by Sheridan, who being picked up
in no very creditable plight by the watch, and asked rather roughly who
he was, made answer--"I am Mr. Wilberforce!" The guardians of the night
conducted him home with all the honours due to Grace and Nature.]

* * * * *


Mr. Southey, as we formerly remember to have seen him, had a hectic
flush upon his cheek, a roving fire in his eye, a falcon glance, a look
at once aspiring and dejected--it was the look that had been impressed
upon his face by the events that marked the outset of his life, it was
the dawn of Liberty that still tinged his cheek, a smile betwixt hope
and sadness that still played upon his quivering lip. Mr. Southey's mind
is essentially sanguine, even to over-weeningness. It is prophetic of
good; it cordially embraces it; it casts a longing, lingering look after
it, even when it is gone for ever. He cannot bear to give up the thought
of happiness, his confidence in his fellow-man, when all else despair.
It is the very element, "where he must live or have no life at all."
While he supposed it possible that a better form of society could be
introduced than any that had hitherto existed, while the light of the
French Revolution beamed into his soul (and long after, it was seen
reflected on his brow, like the light of setting suns on the peak of
some high mountain, or lonely range of clouds, floating in purer ether!)
while he had this hope, this faith in man left, he cherished it with
child-like simplicity, he clung to it with the fondness of a lover, he
was an enthusiast, a fanatic, a leveller; he stuck at nothing that
he thought would banish all pain and misery from the world--in his
impatience of the smallest error or injustice, he would have sacrificed
himself and the existing generation (a holocaust) to his devotion to the
right cause. But when he once believed after many staggering doubts and
painful struggles, that this was no longer possible, when his chimeras
and golden dreams of human perfectibility vanished from him, he turned
suddenly round, and maintained that "whatever _is_, is right." Mr.
Southey has not fortitude of mind, has not patience to think that evil
is inseparable from the nature of things. His irritable sense rejects
the alternative altogether, as a weak stomach rejects the food that
is distasteful to it. He hopes on against hope, he believes in all
unbelief. He must either repose on actual or on imaginary good. He
missed his way in _Utopia_, he has found it at Old Sarum--

"His generous _ardour_ no cold medium knows:"

his eagerness admits of no doubt or delay. He is ever in extremes, and
ever in the wrong!

The reason is, that not truth, but self-opinion is the ruling principle
of Mr. Southey's mind. The charm of novelty, the applause of the
multitude, the sanction of power, the venerableness of antiquity, pique,
resentment, the spirit of contradiction have a good deal to do with his
preferences. His inquiries are partial and hasty: his conclusions raw
and unconcocted, and with a considerable infusion of whim and humour and
a monkish spleen. His opinions are like certain wines, warm and generous
when new; but they will not keep, and soon turn flat or sour, for want
of a stronger spirit of the understanding to give a body to them. He
wooed Liberty as a youthful lover, but it was perhaps more as a mistress
than a bride; and he has since wedded with an elderly and not very
reputable lady, called Legitimacy. _A wilful man_, according to the
Scotch proverb, _must have his way_. If it were the cause to which he
was sincerely attached, he would adhere to it through good report and
evil report; but it is himself to whom he does homage, and would have
others do so; and he therefore changes sides, rather than submit to
apparent defeat or temporary mortification. Abstract principle has
no rule but the understood distinction between right and wrong; the
indulgence of vanity, of caprice, or prejudice is regulated by the
convenience or bias of the moment. The temperament of our politician's
mind is poetical, not philosophical. He is more the creature of impulse,
than he is of reflection. He invents the unreal, he embellishes the
false with the glosses of fancy, but pays little attention to "the words
of truth and soberness." His impressions are accidental, immediate,
personal, instead of being permanent and universal. Of all mortals he is
surely the most impatient of contradiction, even when he has completely
turned the tables on himself. Is not this very inconsistency the reason?
Is he not tenacious of his opinions, in proportion as they are brittle
and hastily formed? Is he not jealous of the grounds of his belief,
because he fears they will not bear inspection, or is conscious he
has shifted them? Does he not confine others to the strict line of
orthodoxy, because he has himself taken every liberty? Is he not afraid
to look to the right or the left, lest he should see the ghosts of his
former extravagances staring him in the face? Does he not refuse to
tolerate the smallest shade of difference in others, because he feels
that he wants the utmost latitude of construction for differing so
widely from himself? Is he not captious, dogmatical, petulant in
delivering his sentiments, according as he has been inconsistent,
rash, and fanciful in adopting them? He maintains that there can be no
possible ground for differing from him, because he looks only at his
own side of the question! He sets up his own favourite notions as the
standard of reason and honesty, because he has changed from one extreme
to another! He treats his opponents with contempt, because he is himself
afraid of meeting with disrespect! He says that "a Reformer is a worse
character than a house-breaker," in order to stifle the recollection
that he himself once was one!

We must say that "we relish Mr. Southey more in the Reformer" than in
his lately acquired, but by no means natural or becoming character of
poet-laureat and courtier. He may rest assured that a garland of wild
flowers suits him better than the laureat-wreath: that his pastoral odes
and popular inscriptions were far more adapted to his genius than
his presentation-poems. He is nothing akin to birth-day suits and
drawing-room fopperies. "He is nothing, if not fantastical." In his
figure, in his movements, in his sentiments, he is sharp and angular,
quaint and eccentric. Mr. Southey is not of the court, courtly. Every
thing of him and about him is from the people. He is not classical, he
is not legitimate. He is not a man cast in the mould of other men's
opinions: he is not shaped on any model: he bows to no authority: he
yields only to his own wayward peculiarities. He is wild, irregular,
singular, extreme. He is no formalist, not he! All is crude and chaotic,
self-opinionated, vain. He wants proportion, keeping, system, standard
rules. He is not _teres et rotundus_. Mr. Southey walks with his chin
erect through the streets of London, and with an umbrella sticking out
under his arm, in the finest weather. He has not sacrificed to the
Graces, nor studied decorum. With him every thing is projecting,
starting from its place, an episode, a digression, a poetic license. He
does not move in any given orbit, but like a falling star, shoots from
his sphere. He is pragmatical, restless, unfixed, full of experiments,
beginning every thing a-new, wiser than his betters, judging for
himself, dictating to others. He is decidedly _revolutionary_. He may
have given up the reform of the State: but depend upon it, he has some
other _hobby_ of the same kind. Does he not dedicate to his present
Majesty that extraordinary poem on the death of his father, called _The
Vision of Judgment_, as a specimen of what might be done in English
hexameters? In a court-poem all should be trite and on an approved
model. He might as well have presented himself at the levee in a fancy
or masquerade dress. Mr. Southey was not _to try conclusions_ with
Majesty--still less on such an occasion. The extreme freedoms with
departed greatness, the party-petulance carried to the Throne of
Grace, the unchecked indulgence of private humour, the assumption of
infallibility and even of the voice of Heaven in this poem, are pointed
instances of what we have said. They shew the singular state of
over-excitement of Mr. Southey's mind, and the force of old habits of
independent and unbridled thinking, which cannot be kept down even
in addressing his Sovereign! Look at Mr. Southey's larger poems, his
_Kehama_, his _Thalaba_, his _Madoc_, his _Roderic_. Who will deny the
spirit, the scope, the splendid imagery, the hurried and startling
interest that pervades them? Who will say that they are not sustained on
fictions wilder than his own Glendoveer, that they are not the daring
creations of a mind curbed by no law, tamed by no fear, that they are
not rather like the trances than the waking dreams of genius, that
they are not the very paradoxes of poetry? All this is very well, very
intelligible, and very harmless, if we regard the rank excrescences of
Mr. Southey's poetry, like the red and blue flowers in corn, as the
unweeded growth of a luxuriant and wandering fancy; or if we allow
the yeasty workings of an ardent spirit to ferment and boil over--the
variety, the boldness, the lively stimulus given to the mind may then
atone for the violation of rules and the offences to bed-rid authority;
but not if our poetic libertine sets up for a law-giver and judge, or an
apprehender of vagrants in the regions either of taste or opinion. Our
motley gentleman deserves the strait-waistcoat, if he is for setting
others in the stocks of servility, or condemning them to the pillory
for a new mode of rhyme or reason. Or if a composer of sacred Dramas on
classic models, or a translator of an old Latin author (that will hardly
bear translation) or a vamper-up of vapid cantos and Odes set to music,
were to turn pander to prescription and palliater of every dull,
incorrigible abuse, it would not be much to be wondered at or even
regretted. But in Mr. Southey it was a lamentable falling-off. It is
indeed to be deplored, it is a stain on genius, a blow to humanity, that
the author of _Joan of Arc_--that work in which the love of Liberty is
exhaled like the breath of spring, mild, balmy, heaven-born, that is
full of tears and virgin-sighs, and yearnings of affection after truth
and good, gushing warm and crimsoned from the heart--should ever after
turn to folly, or become the advocate of a rotten cause. After giving up
his heart to that subject, he ought not (whatever others might do) ever
to have set his foot within the threshold of a court. He might be sure
that he would not gain forgiveness or favour by it, nor obtain a single
cordial smile from greatness. All that Mr. Southey is or that he does
best, is independent, spontaneous, free as the vital air he draws--when
he affects the courtier or the sophist, he is obliged to put a
constraint upon himself, to hold in his breath, he loses his genius,
and offers a violence to his nature. His characteristic faults are the
excess of a lively, unguarded temperament:--oh! let them not degenerate
into cold-blooded, heartless vices! If we speak or have ever spoken of
Mr. Southey with severity, it is with "the malice of old friends," for
we count ourselves among his sincerest and heartiest well-wishers. But
while he himself is anomalous, incalculable, eccentric, from youth to
age (the _Wat Tyler_ and the _Vision of Judgment_ are the Alpha
and Omega of his disjointed career) full of sallies of humour, of
ebullitions of spleen, making _jets-d'eaux,_ cascades, fountains, and
water-works of his idle opinions, he would shut up the wits of others in
leaden cisterns, to stagnate and corrupt, or bury them under ground--

"Far from the sun and summer gale!"

He would suppress the freedom of wit and humour, of which he has set the
example, and claim a privilege for playing antics. He would introduce an
uniformity of intellectual weights and measures, of irregular metres and
settled opinions, and enforce it with a high hand. This has been judged
hard by some, and has brought down a severity of recrimination, perhaps
disproportioned to the injury done. "Because he is virtuous," (it has
been asked,) "are there to be no more cakes and ale?" Because he is
loyal, are we to take all our notions from the _Quarterly Review_?
Because he is orthodox, are we to do nothing but read the _Book of the
Church_? We declare we think his former poetical scepticism was not only
more amiable, but had more of the spirit of religion in it, implied a
more heartfelt trust in nature and providence than his present bigotry.
We are at the same time free to declare that we think his articles in
the _Quarterly Review,_ notwithstanding their virulence and the talent
they display, have a tendency to qualify its most pernicious effects.
They have redeeming traits in them. "A little leaven leaveneth the whole
lump:" and the spirit of humanity (thanks to Mr. Southey) is not quite
expelled from the _Quarterly Review_. At the corner of his pen, "there
hangs a vapourous drop profound" of independence and liberality, which
falls upon its pages, and oozes out through the pores of the public
mind. There is a fortunate difference between writers whose hearts are
naturally callous to truth, and whose understandings are hermetically
sealed against all impressions but those of self-interest, and a man
like Mr. Southey. _Once a philanthropist and always a philanthropist_.
No man can entirely baulk his nature: it breaks out in spite of him.
In all those questions, where the spirit of contradiction does not
interfere, on which he is not sore from old bruises, or sick from the
extravagance of youthful intoxication, as from a last night's debauch,
our "laureate" is still bold, free, candid, open to conviction, a
reformist without knowing it. He does not advocate the slave-trade, he
does not arm Mr. Malthus's revolting ratios with his authority, he does
not strain hard to deluge Ireland with blood. On such points, where
humanity has not become obnoxious, where liberty has not passed into a
by-word, Mr. Southey is still liberal and humane. The elasticity of his
spirit is unbroken: the bow recoils to its old position. He still stands
convicted of his early passion for inquiry and improvement. He was not
regularly articled as a Government-tool!--Perhaps the most pleasing and
striking of all Mr. Southey's poems are not his triumphant taunts hurled
against oppression, are not his glowing effusions to Liberty, but
those in which, with a mild melancholy, he seems conscious of his own
infirmities of temper, and to feel a wish to correct by thought and
time the precocity and sharpness of his disposition. May the quaint but
affecting aspiration expressed in one of these be fulfilled, that as
he mellows into maturer age, all such asperities may wear off, and he
himself become

"Like the high leaves upon the holly-tree!"

Mr. Southey's prose-style can scarcely be too much praised. It is plain,
clear, pointed, familiar, perfectly modern in its texture, but with
a grave and sparkling admixture of _archaisms_ in its ornaments and
occasional phraseology. He is the best and most natural prose-writer of
any poet of the day; we mean that he is far better than Lord Byron,
Mr. Wordsworth, or Mr. Coleridge, for instance. The manner is perhaps
superior to the matter, that is, in his Essays and Reviews. There is
rather a want of originality and even of _impetus_: but there is no want
of playful or biting satire, of ingenuity, of casuistry, of

learning and of information. He is "full of wise saws and modern" (as
well as ancient) "instances." Mr. Southey may not always convince his
opponents; but he seldom fails to stagger, never to gall them. In a
word, we may describe his style by saying that it has not the body or
thickness of port wine, but is like clear sherry with kernels of
old authors thrown into it!--He also excels as an historian and
prose-translator. His histories abound in information, and exhibit
proofs of the most indefatigable patience and industry. By no uncommon
process of the mind, Mr. Southey seems willing to steady the extreme
levity of his opinions and feelings by an appeal to facts. His
translations of the Spanish and French romances are also executed _con
amore_, and with the literal fidelity and care of a mere linguist. That
of the _Cid_, in particular, is a masterpiece. Not a word could be
altered for the better, in the old scriptural style which it adopts in
conformity to the original. It is no less interesting in itself, or as a
record of high and chivalrous feelings and manners, than it is worthy of
perusal as a literary curiosity.

Mr. Southey's conversation has a little resemblance to a common-place
book; his habitual deportment to a piece of clock-work. He is not
remarkable either as a reasoner or an observer: but he is quick,
unaffected, replete with anecdote, various and retentive in his reading,
and exceedingly happy in his play upon words, as most scholars are who
give their minds this sportive turn. We have chiefly seen Mr. Southey
in company where few people appear to advantage, we mean in that of Mr.
Coleridge. He has not certainly the same range of speculation, nor
the same flow of sounding words, but he makes up by the details of
knowledge, and by a scrupulous correctness of statement for what he
wants in originality of thought, or impetuous declamation. The tones of
Mr. Coleridge's voice are eloquence: those of Mr. Southey are meagre,
shrill, and dry. Mr. Coleridge's _forte_ is conversation, and he is
conscious of this: Mr. Southey evidently considers writing as his
strong-hold, and if gravelled in an argument, or at a loss for an
explanation, refers to something he has written on the subject, or
brings out his port-folio, doubled down in dog-ears, in confirmation of
some fact. He is scholastic and professional in his ideas. He sets more
value on what he writes than on what he says: he is perhaps prouder of
his library than of his own productions--themselves a library! He is
more simple in his manners than his friend Mr. Coleridge; but at the
same time less cordial or conciliating. He is less vain, or has less
hope of pleasing, and therefore lays himself less out to please. There
is an air of condescension in his civility. With a tall, loose figure, a
peaked austerity of countenance, and no inclination to _embonpoint_,
you would say he has something puritanical, something ascetic in his
appearance. He answers to Mandeville's description of Addison, "a parson
in a tye-wig." He is not a boon companion, nor does he indulge in the
pleasures of the table, nor in any other vice; nor are we aware that Mr.
Southey is chargeable with any human frailty but--_want of charity_!
Having fewer errors to plead guilty to, he is less lenient to those of
others. He was born an age too late. Had he lived a century or two ago,
he would have been a happy as well as blameless character. But the
distraction of the time has unsettled him, and the multiplicity of his
pretensions have jostled with each other. No man in our day (at least no
man of genius) has led so uniformly and entirely the life of a scholar
from boyhood to the present hour, devoting himself to learning with
the enthusiasm of an early love, with the severity and constancy of a
religious vow--and well would it have been for him if he had confined
himself to this, and not undertaken to pull down or to patch up the
State! However irregular in his opinions, Mr. Southey is constant,
unremitting, mechanical in his studies, and the performance of his
duties. There is nothing Pindaric or Shandean here. In all the relations
and charities of private life, he is correct, exemplary, generous, just.
We never heard a single impropriety laid to his charge; and if he has
many enemies, few men can boast more numerous or stauncher friends.--The
variety and piquancy of his writings form a striking contrast to the
mode in which they are produced. He rises early, and writes or reads
till breakfast-time. He writes or reads after breakfast till dinner,
after dinner till tea, and from tea till bed-time--

"And follows so the ever-running year
With profitable labour to his grave--"

on Derwent's banks, beneath the foot of Skiddaw. Study serves him for
business, exercise, recreation. He passes from verse to prose, from
history to poetry, from reading to writing, by a stop-watch. He writes a
fair hand, without blots, sitting upright in his chair, leaves off when
he comes to the bottom of the page, and changes the subject for another,
as opposite as the Antipodes. His mind is after all rather the recipient
and transmitter of knowledge, than the originator of it. He has hardly
grasp of thought enough to arrive at any great leading truth. His
passions do not amount to more than irritability. With some gall in his
pen, and coldness in his manner, he has a great deal of kindness in his
heart. Rash in his opinions, he is steady in his attachments--and is a
man, in many particulars admirable, in all respectable--his political
inconsistency alone excepted!

* * * * *


"Or winglet of the fairy humming-bird,
Like atoms of the rainbow fluttering round."


The lines placed at the head of this sketch, from a contemporary writer,
appear to us very descriptive of Mr. Moore's poetry. His verse is like
a shower of beauty; a dance of images; a stream of music; or like the
spray of the water-fall, tinged by the morning-beam with rosy light.
The characteristic distinction of our author's style is this continuous
and incessant flow of voluptuous thoughts and shining allusions. He
ought to write with a crystal pen on silver paper. His subject is set
off by a dazzling veil of poetic diction, like a wreath of flowers
gemmed with innumerous dewdrops, that weep, tremble, and glitter in
liquid softness and pearly light, while the song of birds ravishes
the ear, and languid odours breathe around, and Aurora opens Heaven's
smiling portals, Peris and nymphs peep through the golden glades, and an
Angel's wing glances over the glossy scene.

"No dainty flower or herb that grows on ground,
No arboret with painted blossoms drest,
And smelling sweet, but there it might be found
To bud out fair, and its sweet smells throw all around.

No tree, whose branches did not bravely spring;
No branch, whereon a fine bird did not sit;
No bird, but did her shrill notes sweetly sing;
No song, but did contain a lovely dit:
Trees, branches, birds, and songs were framed fit
For to allure frail minds to careless ease."....

Mr. Campbell's imagination is fastidious and select; and hence, though
we meet with more exquisite beauties in his writings, we meet with
them more rarely: there is comparatively a dearth of ornament. But Mr.
Moore's strictest economy is "wasteful and superfluous excess:" he is
always liberal, and never at a loss; for sooner than not stimulate and
delight the reader, he is willing to be tawdry, or superficial, or
common-place. His Muse must be fine at any rate, though she should
paint, and wear cast-off decorations. Rather than have any lack of
excitement, he repeats himself; and "Eden, and Eblis, and cherub-smiles"
fill up the pauses of the sentiment with a sickly monotony.--It has been
too much our author's object to pander to the artificial taste of the
age; and his productions, however brilliant and agreeable, are in
consequence somewhat meretricious and effeminate. It was thought
formerly enough to have an occasionally fine passage in the progress of
a story or a poem, and an occasionally striking image or expression in
a fine passage or description. But this style, it seems, was to be
exploded as rude, Gothic, meagre, and dry. Now all must be raised to
the same tantalising and preposterous level. There must be no pause, no
interval, no repose, no gradation. Simplicity and truth yield up the
palm to affectation and grimace. The craving of the public mind after
novelty and effect is a false and uneasy appetite that must be pampered
with fine words at every step--we must be tickled with sound, startled
with shew, and relieved by the importunate, uninterrupted display of
fancy and verbal tinsel as much as possible from the fatigue of thought
or shock of feeling. A poem is to resemble an exhibition of fireworks,
with a continual explosion of quaint figures and devices, flash after
flash, that surprise for the moment, and leave no trace of light or
warmth behind them. Or modern poetry in its retrograde progress comes at
last to be constructed on the principles of the modern OPERA, where an
attempt is made to gratify every sense at every instant, and where the
understanding alone is insulted and the heart mocked. It is in this
view only that we can discover that Mr. Moore's poetry is vitiated or
immoral,--it seduces the taste and enervates the imagination. It creates
a false standard of reference, and inverts or decompounds the natural
order of association, in which objects strike the thoughts and feelings.
His is the poetry of the bath, of the toilette, of the saloon, of the
fashionable world; not the poetry of nature, of the heart, or of human
life. He stunts and enfeebles equally the growth of the imagination and
the affections, by not taking the seed of poetry and sowing it in the
ground of truth, and letting it expand in the dew and rain, and shoot up
to heaven,

"And spread its sweet leaves to the air,
Or dedicate its beauty to the sun,"--

instead of which he anticipates and defeats his own object, by plucking
flowers and blossoms from the stem, and setting them in the ground of
idleness and folly--or in the cap of his own vanity, where they soon
wither and disappear, "dying or ere they sicken!" This is but a sort
of child's play, a short-sighted ambition. In Milton we meet with many
prosaic lines, either because the subject does not require raising or
because they are necessary to connect the story, or serve as a relief to
other passages--there is not such a thing to be found in all Mr. Moore's
writings. His volumes present us with "a perpetual feast of nectar'd
sweets"--but we cannot add,--"where no crude surfeit reigns." He indeed
cloys with sweetness; he obscures with splendour; he fatigues with
gaiety. We are stifled on beds of roses--we literally lie "on the rack
of restless ecstacy." His flowery fancy "looks so fair and smells so
sweet, that the sense aches at it." His verse droops and languishes
under a load of beauty, like a bough laden with fruit. His gorgeous
style is like "another morn risen on mid-noon." There is no passage
that is not made up of blushing lines, no line that is not enriched with
a sparkling metaphor, no image that is left unadorned with a double
epithet--all his verbs, nouns, adjectives, are equally glossy, smooth,
and beautiful. Every stanza is transparent with light, perfumed with
odours, floating in liquid harmony, melting in luxurious, evanescent
delights. His Muse is never contented with an offering from one sense
alone, but brings another rifled charm to match it, and revels in
a fairy round of pleasure. The interest is not dramatic, but
melo-dramatic--it is a mixture of painting, poetry, and music, of the
natural and preternatural, of obvious sentiment and romantic costume. A
rose is a _Gul_, a nightingale a _Bulbul_. We might fancy ourselves in
an eastern harem, amidst Ottomans, and otto of roses, and veils and
spangles, and marble pillars, and cool fountains, and Arab maids and
Genii, and magicians, and Peris, and cherubs, and what not? Mr. Moore
has a little mistaken the art of poetry for the _cosmetic art_. He does
not compose an historic group, or work out a single figure; but throws
a variety of elementary sensations, of vivid impressions together, and
calls it a description. He makes out an inventory of beauty--the smile
on the lips, the dimple on the cheeks, _item_, golden locks, _item_, a
pair of blue wings, _item_, a silver sound, with breathing fragrance and
radiant light, and thinks it a character or a story. He gets together a
number of fine things and fine names, and thinks that, flung on heaps,
they make up a fine poem. This dissipated, fulsome, painted, patch-work
style may succeed in the levity and languor of the _boudoir_, or might
have been adapted to the Pavilions of royalty, but it is not the style
of Parnassus, nor a passport to Immortality. It is not the taste of the
ancients, "'tis not classical lore"--nor the fashion of Tibullus, or
Theocritus, or Anacreon, or Virgil, or Ariosto, or Pope, or Byron, or
any great writer among the living or the dead, but it is the style of
our English Anacreon, and it is (or was) the fashion of the day! Let one
example (and that an admired one) taken from _Lalla Rookh_, suffice to
explain the mystery and soften the harshness of the foregoing criticism.

"Now upon Syria's land of roses
Softly the light of eve reposes,
And like a glory, the broad sun
Hangs over sainted Lebanon:
Whose head in wintry grandeur towers,
And whitens with eternal sleet,
While summer, in a vale of flowers,
Is sleeping rosy at his feet.
To one who look'd from upper air,
O'er all th' enchanted regions there,
How beauteous must have been the glow,
The life, the sparkling from below!
Fair gardens, shining streams, with ranks
Of golden melons on their banks,
More golden where the sun-light falls,--
Gay lizards, glittering on the walls
Of ruin'd shrines, busy and bright
As they were all alive with light;--
And yet more splendid, numerous flocks
Of pigeons, settling on the rocks,
With their rich, restless wings, that gleam
Variously in the crimson beam
Of the warm west, as if inlaid
With brilliants from the mine, or made
Of tearless rainbows, such as span
The unclouded skies of Peristan!
And then, the mingling sounds that come
Of shepherd's ancient reed, with hum
Of the wild bees of Palestine,
Banquetting through the flowery vales--
And, Jordan, those sweet banks of thine,
And woods, so full of nightingales."--

The following lines are the very perfection of Della Cruscan sentiment,
and affected orientalism of style. The Peri exclaims on finding that old
talisman and hackneyed poetical machine, "a penitent tear"--

"Joy, joy forever! my task is done--
The gates are pass'd, and Heaven is won!
Oh! am I not happy? I am, I am--
To thee, sweet Eden! how dark and sad
Are the diamond turrets of Shadukiam,
And the fragrant bowers of Amberabad."

There is in all this a play of fancy, a glitter of words, a shallowness
of thought, and a want of truth and solidity that is wonderful, and
that nothing but the heedless, rapid glide of the verse could render
tolerable:----it seems that the poet, as well as the lover,

"May bestride the Gossamer,
That wantons in the idle, summer air,
And yet not fall, so light is vanity!"

Mr. Moore ought not to contend with serious difficulties or with entire
subjects. He can write verses, not a poem. There is no principle of
massing or of continuity in his productions--neither height nor breadth
nor depth of capacity. There is no truth of representation, no strong
internal feeling--but a continual flutter and display of affected airs
and graces, like a finished coquette, who hides the want of symmetry by
extravagance of dress, and the want of passion by flippant forwardness
and unmeaning sentimentality. All is flimsy, all is florid to excess.
His imagination may dally with insect beauties, with Rosicrucian spells;
may describe a butterfly's wing, a flower-pot, a fan: but it should not
attempt to span the great outlines of nature, or keep pace with the
sounding march of events, or grapple with the strong fibres of the human
heart. The great becomes turgid in his hands, the pathetic insipid. If
Mr. Moore were to describe the heights of Chimboraco, instead of the
loneliness, the vastness and the shadowy might, he would only think
of adorning it with roseate tints, like a strawberry-ice, and would
transform a magician's fortress in the Himmalaya (stripped of its
mysterious gloom and frowning horrors) into a jeweller's toy, to be set
upon a lady's toilette. In proof of this, see above "the diamond turrets
of Shadukiam," &c. The description of Mokanna in the fight, though
it has spirit and grandeur of effect, has still a great alloy of the
mock-heroic in it. The route of blood and death, which is otherwise well
marked, is infested with a swarm of "fire-fly" fancies.

"In vain Mokanna, 'midst the general flight,
Stands, like the red moon, in some stormy night.
Among the fugitive clouds, that hurrying by,
Leave only her unshaken in the sky."

This simile is fine, and would have been perfect, but that the moon is
not red, and that she seems to hurry by the clouds, not they by her. The
description of the warrior's youthful adversary,

----"Whose coming seems
A light, a glory, such as breaks in dreams."--

is fantastic and enervated--a field of battle has nothing to do with
dreams:--and again, the two lines immediately after,

"And every sword, true as o'er billows dim
The needle tracks the load-star, following him"--

are a mere piece of enigmatical ingenuity and scientific

We cannot except the _Irish Melodies_ from the same censure. If these
national airs do indeed express the soul of impassioned feeling in his
countrymen, the case of Ireland is hopeless. If these prettinesses pass
for patriotism, if a country can heave from its heart's core only these
vapid, varnished sentiments, lip-deep, and let its tears of blood
evaporate in an empty conceit, let it be governed as it has been. There
are here no tones to waken Liberty, to console Humanity. Mr. Moore
converts the wild harp of Erin into a musical snuff-box[A]!--We _do_
except from this censure the author's political squibs, and the "Two-
penny Post-bag." These are essences, are "nests of spicery", bitter and
sweet, honey and gall together. No one can so well describe the set
speech of a dull formalist[B], or the flowing locks of a Dowager,

"In the manner of Ackermann's dresses for May."

His light, agreeable, polished style pierces through the body of the
court--hits off the faded graces of "an Adonis of fifty", weighs the
vanity of fashion in tremulous scales, mimics the grimace of affectation
and folly, shews up the littleness of the great, and spears a phalanx of
statesmen with its glittering point as with a diamond broach.

"In choosing songs the Regent named
'Had I a heart for falsehood fram'd:'
While gentle Hertford begg'd and pray'd
For 'Young I am, and sore afraid.'"

Nothing in Pope or Prior ever surpassed the delicate insinuation
and adroit satire of these lines, and hundreds more of our author's
composition. We wish he would not take pains to make us think of them
with less pleasure than formerly.--The "Fudge Family" is in the same
spirit, but with a little falling-off. There is too great a mixture of
undisguised Jacobinism and fashionable _slang_. The "divine Fanny Bias"
and "the mountains _a la Russe_" figure in somewhat quaintly with
Buonaparte and the Bourbons. The poet also launches the lightning of
political indignation; but it rather plays round and illumines his own
pen than reaches the devoted heads at which it is aimed!

Mr. Moore is in private life an amiable and estimable man. The
embellished and voluptuous style of his poetry, his unpretending origin,
and his _mignon_ figure soon introduced him to the notice of the
great, and his gaiety, his wit, his good-humour, and many agreeable
accomplishments fixed him there, the darling of his friends and the idol
of fashion. If he is no longer familiar with Royalty as with his garter,
the fault is not his--his adherence to his principles caused the
separation--his love of his country was the cloud that intercepted the
sunshine of court-favour. This is so far well. Mr. Moore vindicates his
own dignity; but the sense of intrinsic worth, of wide-spread fame, and
of the intimacy of the great makes him perhaps a little too fastidious
and _exigeant_ as to the pretensions of others. He has been so long
accustomed to the society of Whig Lords, and so enchanted by the smile
of beauty and fashion, that he really fancies himself one of the _set_,
to which he is admitted on sufferance, and tries very unnecessarily to
keep others out of it. He talks familiarly of works that are or are
not read "in _our_ circle;" and seated smiling and at his ease in a
coronet-coach, enlivening the owner by his brisk sallies and Attic
conceits, is shocked, as he passes, to see a Peer of the realm shake
hands with a poet. There is a little indulgence of spleen and envy, a
little servility and pandering to aristocratic pride in this proceeding.
Is Mr. Moore bound to advise a Noble Poet to get as fast as possible out
of a certain publication, lest he should not be able to give an
account at Holland or at Lansdown House, how his friend Lord B----had
associated himself with his friend L. H----? Is he afraid that the
"Spirit of Monarchy" will eclipse the "Fables for the Holy Alliance" in
virulence and plain speaking? Or are the members of the "Fudge Family"
to secure a monopoly for the abuse of the Bourbons and the doctrine of
Divine Right? Because he is genteel and sarcastic, may not others be
paradoxical and argumentative? Or must no one bark at a Minister or
General, unless they have been first dandled, like a little French
pug-dog, in the lap of a lady of quality? Does Mr. Moore insist on the
double claim of birth and genius as a title to respectability in all
advocates of the popular side--but himself? Or is he anxious to keep the
pretensions of his patrician and plebeian friends quite separate, so
as to be himself the only point of union, a sort of _double meaning_,
between the two? It is idle to think of setting bounds to the weakness
and illusions of self-love as long as it is confined to a man's own
breast; but it ought not to be made a plea for holding back the powerful
hand that is stretched out to save another struggling with the tide
of popular prejudice, who has suffered shipwreck of health, fame and
fortune in a common cause, and who has deserved the aid and the good
wishes of all who are (on principle) embarked in the same cause by equal
zeal and honesty, if not by equal talents to support and to adorn it!

We shall conclude the present article with a short notice of an
individual who, in the cast of his mind and in political principle,
bears no very remote resemblance to the patriot and wit just spoken
of, and on whose merits we should descant at greater length, but that
personal intimacy might be supposed to render us partial. It is well
when personal intimacy produces this effect; and when the light, that
dazzled us at a distance, does not on a closer inspection turn out an
opaque substance. This is a charge that none of his friends will bring
against Mr. Leigh Hunt. He improves upon acquaintance. The author
translates admirably into the man. Indeed the very faults of his style
are virtues in the individual. His natural gaiety and sprightliness of
manner, his high animal spirits, and the _vinous_ quality of his mind,
produce an immediate fascination and intoxication in those who come in
contact with him, and carry off in society whatever in his writings may
to some seem flat and impertinent. From great sanguineness of temper,
from great quickness and unsuspecting simplicity, he runs on to the
public as he does at his own fire-side, and talks about himself,
forgetting that he is not always among friends. His look, his tone are
required to point many things that he says: his frank, cordial manner
reconciles you instantly to a little over-bearing, over-weening self-
complacency. "To be admired, he needs but to be seen:" but perhaps he
ought to be seen to be fully appreciated. No one ever sought his society
who did not come away with a more favourable opinion of him: no one was
ever disappointed, except those who had entertained idle prejudices
against him. He sometimes trifles with his readers, or tires of
a subject (from not being urged on by the stimulus of immediate
sympathy)--but in conversation he is all life and animation, combining
the vivacity of the school-boy with the resources of the wit and the
taste of the scholar. The personal character, the spontaneous impulses,
do not appear to excuse the author, unless you are acquainted with his
situation and habits--like some proud beauty who gives herself what
we think strange airs and graces under a mask, but who is instantly
forgiven when she shews her face. We have said that Lord Byron is a
sublime coxcomb: why should we not say that Mr. Hunt is a delightful
one? There is certainly an exuberance of satisfaction in his manner
which is more than the strict logical premises warrant, and which dull
and phlegmatic constitutions know nothing of, and cannot understand till
they see it. He is the only poet or literary man we ever knew who puts
us in mind of Sir John Suckling or Killigrew or Carew; or who united
rare intellectual acquirements with outward grace and natural gentility.
Mr. Hunt ought to have been a gentleman born, and to have patronised men
of letters. He might then have played, and sung, and laughed, and talked
his life away; have written manly prose, elegant verse; and his _Story
of Rimini_ would have been praised by Mr. Blackwood. As it is, there is
no man now living who at the same time writes prose and verse so well,
with the exception of Mr. Southey (an exception, we fear, that will be
little palatable to either of these gentlemen). His prose writings,
however, display more consistency of principle than the laureate's: his
verses more taste. We will venture to oppose his Third Canto of the
_Story of Rimini_ for classic elegance and natural feeling to any equal
number of lines from Mr. Southey's Epics or from Mr. Moore's Lalla
Rookh. In a more gay and conversational style of writing, we think his
_Epistle to Lord Byron_ on his going abroad, is a masterpiece;--and the
_Feast of the Poets_ has run through several editions. A light, familiar
grace, and mild unpretending pathos are the characteristics of his more
sportive or serious writings, whether in poetry or prose. A smile
plays round the features of the one; a tear is ready to start from the
thoughtful gaze of the other. He perhaps takes too little pains, and
indulges in too much wayward caprice in both. A wit and a poet, Mr. Hunt
is also distinguished by fineness of tact and sterling sense: he has
only been a visionary in humanity, the fool of virtue. What then is the
drawback to so many shining qualities, that has made them useless, or
even hurtful to their owner? His crime is, to have been Editor of the
_Examiner_ ten years ago, when some allusion was made in it to the age
of the present king, and that, though his Majesty has grown older, our
luckless politician is no wiser than he was then!

[Footnote A: Compare his songs with Burns's.]

[Footnote B:

"There was a little man, and he had a little soul,
And he said, Little soul, let us try," &c.--

Parody on

"There was a little man, and he had a little gun."--

One should think this exquisite ridicule of a pedantic effusion might
have silenced for ever the automaton that delivered it: but the
official personage in question at the close of the Session addressed an
extra-official congratulation to the Prince Regent on a bill that had
_not_ passed--as if to repeat and insist upon our errors were to justify

* * * * *


So Mr. Charles Lamb and Mr. Washington Irvine choose to designate
themselves; and as their lucubrations under one or other of these _noms
de guerre_ have gained considerable notice from the public, we shall
here attempt to discriminate their several styles and manner, and to
point out the beauties and defects of each in treating of somewhat
similar subjects.

Mr. Irvine is, we take it, the more popular writer of the two, or a more
general favourite: Mr. Lamb has more devoted, and perhaps more judicious
partisans. Mr. Irvine is by birth an American, and has, as it were,
_skimmed the cream_, and taken off patterns with great skill and
cleverness, from our best known and happiest writers, so that their
thoughts and almost their reputation are indirectly transferred to his
page, and smile upon us from another hemisphere, like "the pale reflex
of Cynthia's brow:" he succeeds to our admiration and our sympathy by a
sort of prescriptive title and traditional privilege. Mr. Lamb, on the
contrary, being "native to the manner here," though he too has borrowed
from previous sources, instead of availing himself of the most popular
and admired, has groped out his way, and made his most successful
researches among the more obscure and intricate, though certainly not
the least pithy or pleasant of our writers. Mr. Washington Irvine has
culled and transplanted the flowers of modern literature, for the
amusement of the general reader: Mr. Lamb has raked among the dust and
cobwebs of a more remote period, has exhibited specimens of curious
relics, and pored over moth-eaten, decayed manuscripts, for the benefit
of the more inquisitive and discerning part of the public. Antiquity
after a time has the grace of novelty, as old fashions revived are
mistaken for new ones; and a certain quaintness and singularity of style
is an agreeable relief to the smooth and insipid monotony of modern
composition. Mr. Lamb has succeeded not by conforming to the _Spirit of
the Age_, but in opposition to it. He does not march boldly along with
the crowd, but steals off the pavement to pick his way in the contrary
direction. He prefers _bye-ways_ to _highways_. When the full tide of
human life pours along to some festive shew, to some pageant of a day,
Elia would stand on one side to look over an old book-stall, or stroll
down some deserted pathway in search of a pensive inscription over a
tottering door-way, or some quaint device in architecture, illustrative
of embryo art and ancient manners. Mr. Lamb has the very soul of an
antiquarian, as this implies a reflecting humanity; the film of the past
hovers for ever before him. He is shy, sensitive, the reverse of every
thing coarse, vulgar, obtrusive, and _common-place_. He would fain
"shuffle off this mortal coil", and his spirit clothes itself in the
garb of elder time, homelier, but more durable. He is borne along with
no pompous paradoxes, shines in no glittering tinsel of a fashionable
phraseology; is neither fop nor sophist. He has none of the turbulence
or froth of new-fangled opinions. His style runs pure and clear,
though it may often take an underground course, or be conveyed through
old-fashioned conduit-pipes. Mr. Lamb does not court popularity, nor
strut in gaudy plumes, but shrinks from every kind of ostentatious and
obvious pretension into the retirement of his own mind.

"The self-applauding bird, the peacock see:--
Mark what a sumptuous pharisee is he!
Meridian sun-beams tempt him to unfold
His radiant glories, azure, green, and gold:
He treads as if, some solemn music near,
His measured step were governed by his ear:
And seems to say--Ye meaner fowl, give place,
I am all splendour, dignity, and grace!
Not so the pheasant on his charms presumes,
Though he too has a glory in his plumes.
He, christian-like, retreats with modest mien
To the close copse or far sequestered green,
And shines without desiring to be seen."

These lines well describe the modest and delicate beauties of Mr. Lamb's
writings, contrasted with the lofty and vain-glorious pretensions of
some of his contemporaries. This gentleman is not one of those who pay
all their homage to the prevailing idol: he thinks that

"New-born gauds are made and moulded of things past."

nor does he

"Give to dust that is a little gilt
More laud than gilt o'er-dusted."

His convictions "do not in broad rumour lie," nor are they "set off to
the world in the glistering foil" of fashion; but "live and breathe
aloft in those pure eyes, and perfect judgment of all-seeing _time_."
Mr. Lamb rather affects and is tenacious of the obscure and remote: of
that which rests on its own intrinsic and silent merit; which scorns all
alliance, or even the suspicion of owing any thing to noisy clamour, to
the glare of circumstances. There is a fine tone of _chiaro-scuro_, a
moral perspective in his writings. He delights to dwell on that which is
fresh to the eye of memory; he yearns after and covets what soothes the
frailty of human nature. That touches him most nearly which is withdrawn
to a certain distance, which verges on the borders of oblivion:--that
piques and provokes his fancy most, which is hid from a superficial
glance. That which, though gone by, is still remembered, is in his view
more genuine, and has given more "vital signs that it will live," than a
thing of yesterday, that may be forgotten to-morrow. Death has in this
sense the spirit of life in it; and the shadowy has to our author
something substantial in it. Ideas savour most of reality in his mind;
or rather his imagination loiters on the edge of each, and a page of his
writings recals to our fancy the _stranger_ on the grate, fluttering in
its dusky tensity, with its idle superstition and hospitable welcome!

Mr. Lamb has a distaste to new faces, to new books, to new buildings, to
new customs. He is shy of all imposing appearances, of all assumptions
of self-importance, of all adventitious ornaments, of all mechanical
advantages, even to a nervous excess. It is not merely that he does
not rely upon, or ordinarily avail himself of them; he holds them in
abhorrence, he utterly abjures and discards them, and places a great
gulph between him and them. He disdains all the vulgar artifices of
authorship, all the cant of criticism, and helps to notoriety. He has no
grand swelling theories to attract the visionary and the enthusiast, no
passing topics to allure the thoughtless and the vain. He evades the
present, he mocks the future. His affections revert to, and settle on
the past, but then, even this must have something personal and local in
it to interest him deeply and thoroughly; he pitches his tent in the
suburbs of existing manners; brings down the account of character to the
few straggling remains of the last generation; seldom ventures beyond
the bills of mortality, and occupies that nice point between egotism
and disinterested humanity. No one makes the tour of our southern
metropolis, or describes the manners of the last age, so well as Mr.
Lamb--with so fine, and yet so formal an air--with such vivid obscurity,
with such arch piquancy, such picturesque quaintness, such smiling
pathos. How admirably he has sketched the former inmates of the South-
Sea House; what "fine fretwork he makes of their double and single
entries!" With what a firm, yet subtle pencil he has embodied _Mrs.
Battle's Opinions on Whist_! How notably he embalms a battered _beau_;
how delightfully an amour, that was cold forty years ago, revives in
his pages! With what well-disguised humour he introduces us to his
relations, and how freely he serves up his friends! Certainly, some of
his portraits are _fixtures_, and will do to hang up as lasting and
lively emblems of human infirmity. Then there is no one who has so sure
an ear for "the chimes at midnight", not even excepting Mr. Justice
Shallow; nor could Master Silence himself take his "cheese and pippins"
with a more significant and satisfactory air. With what a gusto Mr. Lamb
describes the inns and courts of law, the Temple and Gray's-Inn, as if
he had been a student there for the last two hundred years, and had been
as well acquainted with the person of Sir Francis Bacon as he is with
his portrait or writings! It is hard to say whether St. John's Gate is
connected with more intense and authentic associations in his mind, as
a part of old London Wall, or as the frontispiece (time out of mind) of
the Gentleman's Magazine. He haunts Watling-street like a gentle spirit;
the avenues to the play-houses are thick with panting recollections,
and Christ's-Hospital still breathes the balmy breath of infancy in his
description of it! Whittington and his Cat are a fine hallucination for
Mr. Lamb's historic Muse, and we believe he never heartily forgave a
certain writer who took the subject of Guy Faux out of his hands. The
streets of London are his fairy-land, teeming with wonder, with life
and interest to his retrospective glance, as it did to the eager eye
of childhood; he has contrived to weave its tritest traditions into a
bright and endless romance!

Mr. Lamb's taste in books is also fine, and it is peculiar. It is not
the worse for a little _idiosyncrasy_. He does not go deep into the
Scotch novels, but he is at home in Smollett and Fielding. He is little
read in Junius or Gibbon, but no man can give a better account of
Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy, or Sir Thomas Brown's Urn-Burial,
or Fuller's Worthies, or John Bunyan's Holy War. No one is more
unimpressible to a specious declamation; no one relishes a recondite
beauty more. His admiration of Shakespear and Milton does not make
him despise Pope; and he can read Parnell with patience, and Gay
with delight. His taste in French and German literature is somewhat
defective: nor has he made much progress in the science of Political
Economy or other abstruse studies, though he has read vast folios of
controversial divinity, merely for the sake of the intricacy of style,
and to save himself the pain of thinking. Mr. Lamb is a good judge of
prints and pictures. His admiration of Hogarth does credit to both,
particularly when it is considered that Leonardo da Vinci is his next
greatest favourite, and that his love of the _actual_ does not
proceed from a want of taste for the _ideal_. His worst fault is an
over-eagerness of enthusiasm, which occasionally makes him take a
surfeit of his highest favourites.--Mr. Lamb excels in familiar
conversation almost as much as in writing, when his modesty does not
overpower his self-possession. He is as little of a proser as possible;
but he _blurts_ out the finest wit and sense in the world. He keeps
a good deal in the back-ground at first, till some excellent conceit
pushes him forward, and then he abounds in whim and pleasantry. There
is a primitive simplicity and self-denial about his manners; and a
Quakerism in his personal appearance, which is, however, relieved by
a fine Titian head, full of dumb eloquence! Mr. Lamb is a general
favourite with those who know him. His character is equally singular and
amiable. He is endeared to his friends not less by his foibles than his
virtues; he insures their esteem by the one, and does not wound their
self-love by the other. He gains ground in the opinion of others,
by making no advances in his own. We easily admire genius where the
diffidence of the possessor makes our acknowledgment of merit seem like
a sort of patronage, or act of condescension, as we willingly extend our
good offices where they are not exacted as obligations, or repaid with
sullen indifference.--The style of the Essays of Elia is liable to the
charge of a certain _mannerism_. His sentences are cast in the mould of
old authors; his expressions are borrowed from them; but his feelings
and observations are genuine and original, taken from actual life, or
from his own breast; and he may be said (if any one can) "to have
coined his heart for _jests_," and to have split his brain for fine
distinctions! Mr. Lamb, from the peculiarity of his exterior and address
as an author, would probably never have made his way by detached and
independent efforts; but, fortunately for himself and others, he has
taken advantage of the Periodical Press, where he has been stuck into
notice, and the texture of his compositions is assuredly fine enough to
bear the broadest glare of popularity that has hitherto shone upon them.
Mr. Lamb's literary efforts have procured him civic honours (a thing
unheard of in our times), and he has been invited, in his character of
ELIA, to dine at a select party with the Lord Mayor. We should prefer
this distinction to that of being poet-laureat. We would recommend
to Mr. Waithman's perusal (if Mr. Lamb has not anticipated us) the
_Rosamond Gray_ and the _John Woodvil_ of the same author, as an
agreeable relief to the noise of a city feast, and the heat of city
elections. A friend, a short time ago, quoted some lines[A] from the
last-mentioned of these works, which meeting Mr. Godwin's eye, he was
so struck with the beauty of the passage, and with a consciousness of
having seen it before, that he was uneasy till he could recollect where,
and after hunting in vain for it in Ben Jonson, Beaumont and Fletcher,
and other not unlikely places, sent to Mr. Lamb to know if he could help
him to the author!

Mr. Washington Irvine's acquaintance with English literature begins
almost where Mr. Lamb's ends,--with the Spectator, Tom Brown's works,
and the wits of Queen Anne. He is not bottomed in our elder writers, nor
do we think he has tasked his own faculties much, at least on English
ground. Of the merit of his _Knicker-bocker,_ and New York stories,
we cannot pretend to judge. But in his _Sketch-book_ and
_Bracebridge-Hall_ he gives us very good American copies of our British
Essayists and Novelists, which may be very well on the other side of the
water, and as proofs of the capabilities of the national genius, but
which might be dispensed with here, where we have to boast of the
originals. Not only Mr. Irvine's language is with great taste and
felicity modelled on that of Addison, Sterne, Goldsmith, or Mackenzie;
but the thoughts and sentiments are taken at the rebound, and as they
are brought forward at the present period, want both freshness and
probability. Mr. Irvine's writings are literary _anachronisms_. He comes
to England for the first time; and being on the spot, fancies himself in
the midst of those characters and manners which he had read of in the
Spectator and other approved authors, and which were the only idea he
had hitherto formed of the parent country. Instead of looking round
to see what _we are_, he sets to work to describe us as _we were_--at
second hand. He has Parson Adams, or Sir Roger de Coverley in his
"_mind's eye_"; and he makes a village curate, or a country 'squire in
Yorkshire or Hampshire sit to these admired models for their portraits
in the beginning of the nineteenth century. Whatever the ingenious
author has been most delighted with in the representations of books, he
transfers to his port-folio, and swears that he has found it actually
existing in the course of his observation and travels through Great
Britain. Instead of tracing the changes that have taken place in society
since Addison or Fielding wrote, he transcribes their account in a
different hand-writing, and thus keeps us stationary, at least in our
most attractive and praise-worthy qualities of simplicity, honesty,
hospitality, modesty, and good-nature. This is a very flattering mode
of turning fiction into history, or history into fiction; and we should
scarcely know ourselves again in the softened and altered likeness,
but that it bears the date of 1820, and issues from the press in
Albemarle-street. This is one way of complimenting our national and
Tory prejudices; and coupled with literal or exaggerated portraits of
_Yankee_ peculiarities, could hardly fail to please. The first Essay in
the _Sketch-book_, that on National Antipathies, is the best; but after
that, the sterling ore of wit or feeling is gradually spun thinner and
thinner, till it fades to the shadow of a shade. Mr. Irvine is himself,
we believe, a most agreeable and deserving man, and has been led into
the natural and pardonable error we speak of, by the tempting bait of
European popularity, in which he thought there was no more likely method
of succeeding than by imitating the style of our standard authors, and
giving us credit for the virtues of our forefathers.

[Footnote A: The description of sports in the forest:

"To see the sun to bed and to arise,
Like some hot amourist with glowing eyes," &c.]

* * * * *

We should not feel that we had discharged our obligations to truth or
friendship, if we were to let this volume go without introducing into it
the name of the author of _Virginius_. This is the more proper, inasmuch
as he is a character by himself, and the only poet now living that is a
mere poet. If we were asked what sort of a man Mr. Knowles is, we could
only say, "he is the writer of Virginius." His most intimate friends see
nothing in him, by which they could trace the work to the author. The
seeds of dramatic genius are contained and fostered in the warmth of the
blood that flows in his veins; his heart dictates to his head. The most
unconscious, the most unpretending, the most artless of mortals, he
instinctively obeys the impulses of natural feeling, and produces a
perfect work of art. He has hardly read a poem or a play or seen any
thing of the world, but he hears the anxious beatings of his own heart,
and makes others feel them by the force of sympathy. Ignorant alike
of rules, regardless of models, he follows the steps of truth and
simplicity; and strength, proportion, and delicacy are the infallible
results. By thinking of nothing but his subject, he rivets the attention
of the audience to it. All his dialogue tends to action, all his
situations form classic groups. There is no doubt that Virginius is the
best acting tragedy that has been produced on the modern stage. Mr.
Knowles himself was a player at one time, and this circumstance has
probably enabled him to judge of the picturesque and dramatic effect of
his lines, as we think it might have assisted Shakespear. There is
no impertinent display, no flaunting poetry; the writer immediately
conceives how a thought would tell if he had to speak it himself. Mr.
Knowles is the first tragic writer of the age; in other respects he is
a common man; and divides his time and his affections between his
plots and his fishing-tackle, between the Muses' spring, and those
mountain-streams which sparkle like his own eye, that gush out like his
own voice at the sight of an old friend. We have known him almost from a
child, and we must say he appears to us the same boy-poet that he ever
was. He has been cradled in song, and rocked in it as in a dream,
forgetful of himself and of the world!


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